Tuesday 5 September 2023

the Pear Tree Churches

I wanted to look at the church of St Mary the Virgin in Limpley Stoke, in the valley of the Avon between Bath and Bradford on Avon, and as I was driving by the other day, I stopped.

There's a pear tree in the north west corner of the churchyard, and I remembered someone telling me about the Pear Tree Churches around here. So it was nice to see an actual tree, with pears on.

The story goes that King Aethelred gave the Manor of Bradford to the Abbey of Shaftesbury, perhaps as expiation for his involvement in the murder of his half-brother in Corfe Castle. And the Abbess had pear trees planted on the boundary of the manor, and then chapels built to go  with the pear trees.

As stories go, it's hard to track down any record of this story beyond local anecdote, but as anecdotes go it's a nice one. And in the town of Bradford, below the chapel of St Mary Tory, is the Ladywell, formerly the town's water supply; and it's been decorated with seven pear blossoms, to indicate the seven churches within the estate; Atworth, Bradford, Holt, Limpley Stoke, South Wraxall, Winsley and Wingfield.

Anyway, here I was in the presence of the pear tree at the church of St Mary the Virgin, in Limpley Stoke, formerly dedicated to St Edith (and a pilgrim trail begins here and goes 40 miles to Wilton in Salisbury). Not the original pear tree, which would have been about a thousand years old by now. But still, unimpeachably peary.

Going in, you immediately see the original saxon door to the church, from back when it was smaller, now beached in the middle of the nave.

A memorial slab on the floor of the nave was so worn that it was hard to make out what it was; if you squint a little, you may see a manatee there.

Outside, I nibbled blackberries, while a dog walker told me that this was originally a Knights Templar place and the coffin lids in the churchyard dated from then. Not sure how reliable that gen was, tbh.

The walker followed his dog down the field and out of sight. I picked two pears and put them in my pocket to take home.